Cils A1 Exam: A Comprehensive Guide to Help You Succeed

There are different levels of language certifications for Italian speakers. One can choose between an beginner (A1), advanced beginner (A2), lower-intermediate (B1), intermediate (B2), advanced (C1) or a mastery level (C2).

The most known certifications for Italian are the Cils (issued by University for Foreigners of Siena), the Celi (issued by the University for Foreigners of Perugia) and the Plida (issued by the Dante Alighieri Institutions)

In this post, I’ll delve into the structure of the Cils A1 and share some tips and tricks on how succeed at the exam.

Why Taking the A1 Exam

Not sure if taking a beginner Italian certification is something you want to do? Let me explain why you should think about it.

Language certifications for beginners is an excellent way for adult learners to set their goals in their Italian study time. You surely know that, as an adult, learning happens differently if you ever studied or dabbled out of school in a foreign language. Apart from the traditional setting of classrooms and teachers, it is sometimes difficult to evaluate one’s level. Taking a beginner certification in Italian is a simple way to determine where you are in your language journey and to provide structure to your Italian learning.

Preparing for a language exam entails mastering all four major language competencies: reading, listening, writing, and speaking in Italian. These features  are often overlooked in a conventional language teaching environment, in favor of just speaking.  

Taking an Italian language certification as a beginner  is not for everyone, but it is a fantastic method to increase motivation for reaching a language level and, of course, learning a language thoroughly.

What’s the CILS A1 exam?

The Cils A1 is a language certification that aims to attest your elementary competency in beginner Italian.

You can obtain the Cils A1 Italian language certification after passing the Cils A1 test in Italy as well as abroad in the various institutions such as universities or institutions recognized by the Ministry of Education in Italy. 

What does “A1” mean? 

The Cils A1 is the first level of the Cils certification. The level “A1! refers to the common European framework of reference for languages (CEFRL) and attests the candidate competency in using very basic vocabulary and grammar to satisfy the common practicalities, introducing himself or herself and talking about his or her family, friends and hobbies, as well as ask simple personal questions. At an A1 level, you can interact in a basic manner as long as the counterpart speaks clearly and slowly. 

How to Prepare for the Cils A1 Exam

To reach an A1 level of Italian, you should learn and master the fundamentals of Italian grammar and vocabulary required at this level. You can do so by enrolling in language classes or hiring a private tutor. In both cases, you should make sure to always follow a clear itinerary of the A1 Italian level’s grammar and vocabulary fundamentals. You should also make sure that you to train all the fours competencies of language learning, which are reading, writing, speaking and listening. In fact, passing an exam requires mastering all above aspects of the language. To be clearer, an app that teaches you a few conversation topics and the most Italian common verbs will not be enough on its own).

I recommend using the following tools/textbook books for those who are working toward the A1 level or they’re just starting out or are complete beginner.

The New Italian Espresso series for beginners and pre-intermediate learners (Student Book + Workbook) is a gold mine for those looking for a learning itenerary combining grammar, listening, reading and vocabulary all in one. This one of the best methods available for English native speakers too.   It works best when used in conjunction with a teacher, but will be useful for independent learners as well.


Rocket Language Italian: great self-paced learning method, good for total beginners. Find my review of the course here. 

Italian sentences builder is a great drill book for those who are just starting out Italian. 

Use Easy readers for beginners to improve your vocabulary, listening and sentence building ability (not for total beginners)

Use Preply to find an Italian tutor who can hold you accountable, provide feedback, and monitor your A1 progress.

Use a solid grammar book to build a nice framework to your Italian fluency. Basic Italian Grammar is a great one. 

How long does it take to learn Italian at an A1 Level? 

Because time is relative, the quality of the time you spend with your language, rather than the quantity, will determine your success as a student. If Italian is your first foreign language and your native language is not a romance language (e.g. Spanish or French), I’d estimate that it will take you between 5 and 7 months to achieve A1 Italian.

A1 Grammar Italian Topics:

The verb “to be” and “to have”
Definite and indefinite articles
Conjugation of present tense (regular)
Conjugation of present tense (irregular)
Modal verbs
Simple and articulated prepositions
Passato prossimo
Impersonal forms
Direct object pronoun

A1 Vocabulary Italian Topics:

Introducing yourself
Talk about free time
Describe your city or home
Talking about family or friends

How is the Cils A1 structured?

The exam is split into 5 sections and will last around 2 hours. 

SectionDescriptionDuration
Test di AscoltoListening Comprehension. Divided into two parts: listening to two short texts – Multiple choice exercises – Audio tracks repeated twice.30 minutes
Test di Comprensione della LetturaReading Comprehension. Divided into three parts – Requires reading basic text messages – Multiple choice questions or matching exercises.30 minutes
Test di Analisi delle Strutture di ComunicazioneGrammar and Vocabulary. It consists of three fill-in-the-blank texts – Assess basic grammar and vocabulary capability – Supply correct article or verb30 minutes
Test di ScritturaWriting Production. It consists of two short writing prompts – Texts should not exceed 40 words each30 minutes
Produzione OraleSpeaking Part. Divided into two parts. Administered individually – Examiner may assist a candidate having trouble speaking – Overall duration around 3/4 minutes.
First part: Face-to-face conversation on a specific situation
Second part: Examiner asks the candidate to choose one of the topics and speak on their own – Examples of potential topics: – What you do on national holidays – Your job – Your favorite sport – Your family – Describe an image
3/4 minutes
Cils A1 exam structure

How to find Cils A1 exam Samples 

It’s critical that you set aside time and resources to familiarize yourself with the exam structure before taking it. This is a copy of a previous CILS A1, which can be found on the CILS website. If you want to get more practice, I recommend getting the Quaderni, which is a collection of mock tests from previous years’ A1-A1 CILS exams.

CILS A1 integrazione (CILS A1 for integration) 

A separate note goes to the CILS A1 integrazione. It is a nationally recognized Italian language test that certifies that foreigners living in Italy have attained an A1 level of proficiency in the language. Only those who are already living in Italy can take the CILS A1. The exam is very similar to the regular CILS A1, with the exception that the assignments are more suited to students who already reside in Italy. They will, for example, use vocabulary and situations that the candidate may have already encountered or will encounter during her stay in Italy, such as handling groceries, driving licenses, enrolling in Italian lessons, and asking for information. 

Exam samples for the Cils A1 integrazione can be found on this page

Dates and Exam Centers 

The Cils exams are offered at accredited language institutions in Italy and abroad.

Visit this link to find a location near you and learn when the exam for your level will be held.

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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